From The Wall Street Journal:
By the end of the 19th century, physicists thought they had things pretty well figured out. Everything in the universe was made of various types of “atoms,” which they believed were the smallest possible units of matter. Newton’s laws of motion, combined with the new science of electromagnetism, could predict how these immutable atoms would behave, whether they formed the mass of a planet or the parts in an electric motor. “Now only the details were left to explore,” writes Suzie Sheehy in her absorbing scientific history, “The Matter of Everything: How Curiosity, Physics and Improbable Experiments Changed the World.”
. . . .
By the 1960s, particle physics had grown from tabletop experiments to industrial-scale operations. Instead of a handful of known sub-atomic particles there would soon be more than 100. And to find the next ones, researchers needed bigger accelerators, more power, more people—and more money. Eventually, the cost of the largest particle accelerators became too much for any single country to bear.
This is where Suzie Sheehy enters the story. As a young physics student, she worked briefly at CERN, the multinational research center near Geneva, Switzerland. At the time, CERN was finishing construction of the Large Hadron Collider. The LHC is the largest particle accelerator ever built and the biggest science experiment in history, involving some 10,000 scientists and technicians and a total investment of more than $10 billion.
In 2012 Ms. Sheehy watched a live-feed as CERN project leaders made a long-awaited announcement: They had confirmed the existence of the Higgs boson, a particle predicted four decades earlier by the British physicist Peter Higgs. The discovery resolved some of the biggest quandaries in today’s Standard Model of particle physics. “The camera zoomed in on eighty-two-year-old Peter Higgs as a tear rolled down his cheek,” she recalls.
Does this mean the mysteries of physics are nearly answered? Is there anything left to discover? Ms. Sheehy argues that—despite all the discoveries of the past 125 years—our universe remains full of enigmas. Every day, she writes, physicists like her find reasons to go to their labs “looking for something that makes us go ‘hmm . . . that’s strange.’”
Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal